2 November 2014Matthew 5:1-12
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v.10)
The "kingdom of heaven" (associated uniquely with Jesus) defies definition. It is a gift from God of such extraordinary significance and value that it can only be alluded to in parables and cryptic sayings. It is a transformational power for those who receive it or grasp it. It releases people from whatever distorts, corrupts or constricts their lives. And it sets them free to live a holy life, full of joy and hope, as disciples of Jesus - serving others, especially the poor and needy; and struggling for justice and peace in society.
Who is most likely to receive the blessing of so great a gift? Verses 3-10 (The Beatitudes) give us a sketch. (Verses 11-12 are tagged on to verse 10 through the linked theme of persecution.)
Verses 3 and 10 (they alone use the phrase "the kingdom of heaven") go to the heart of the matter: the poor in spirit and those persecuted for righteousness' sake enjoy the kingdom:
- Verse 3 is about people whose hold on life is fragile; they are frail and vulnerable; or they are deeply depressed; or 'the stuffing has been knocked out of them' (The grieving, verse 4, are one example of the "poor in spirit".)
- Verse 10 (so obviously linked to verse 6) refers to godly people who are abused, tortured or bullied because they stand up for what is right and good in spite of intolerable pressure to collude with wickedness or to compromise. (They are close kindred to the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart and the peacemakers of verses 5, 7-9.)
So, the focus is on victims of harsh circumstances, people of moral integrity and people who suffer for doing what is right. If their hearts are open to God, theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Such a gift fills their lives with happiness and makes them, spiritually speaking, miraculously fruitful.
- Can you recall a personal experience of desolation or grave danger when - against all expectations - you discovered an inner sense of peace or joy, coupled with energy to face the future? How have you been helped to praise and thank God for this?
- "All it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing." What are the evil things about which we are indifferent today? How could you make a difference?
- How do we identify with Christians (and other minority groups) being harassed and persecuted, even killed, in some parts of the world? What practical things can we do on their behalf?
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